How MotorTrend turned its magazine group into a 9-figure video and digital business for Warner Bros. Discovery

  • Warner Bros. Discovery’s MotorTrend is the rare media company that’s evolved from print to long-form video.
  • Digital and video content has become a nine-figure business, with shows aimed at a broad audience.
  • A Spanish-language FAST channel is up next and MotorTrend is making a push into co-productions.

Kevin Hart’s unscripted series “Kevin Hart’s Muscle Car Crew,” which recently announced its second season with MotorTrend Group, represents a step forward for Hart and his friends, the “Plastic Cup Boyz,” as they progress from developing a car club to opening an actual restoration garage.

It’s also an evolution for MotorTrend because it’s the Warner Bros. Discovery unit’s first coproduction with Roku, and it’s a significant step in MotorTrend’s multi-year effort to reach out to new audiences beyond its core car lovers.

MotorTrend is a rare example of a media transformation as it approaches its 75th anniversary in 2024. While many publishers have struggled to adapt to new forms of media, MotorTrend has evolved from a collection of car enthusiast titles such as Motor Trend, Hot Rod, and Automobile to a profitable, diverse media company.

“Print, which made us, can no longer define us,” said Alex Wellen, CEO and president of MotorTrend. “It was like a Harvard Business Review case study opportunity — how do you modernize a brand and pull it off without breaking it?”

As the company monetizes its content across digital and video platforms, digital and video programming revenue will be in the nine figures this year. (MotorTrend declined to provide dollar amounts.) Building on its linear channel, MotorTrend TV, and DTC business, MotorTrend+, it launched Warner Bros. Discovery’s first free, ad-supported TV (FAST) channel last October, and it plans to launch MotorTrend Veloz TV, its first Spanish-language FAST TV channel, in September.

MotorTrend was an early adopter of longform video.

In 2012, MotorTrend launched eight new YouTube channels. The company then embarked on a major direct-to-consumer expansion under what was then unscripted powerhouse Discovery Communications, which was looking to expand its digital and direct-to-consumer footprint. In 2017, Discovery formed a partnership with MotorTrend and its cable channel Velocity (since renamed MotorTrend TV). As part of that expansion, Discovery acquired Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent company of HGTV, Food Network, and other cable networks, the following year.

Discovery hired Wellen, who previously led the digital transformation at CNN Worldwide, to jumpstart MotorTrend. Wellen recognized that MotorTrend needed to broaden its appeal to a broader audience without dumbing down its offering in the eyes of hotrod and other classic car enthusiasts; he also folded the majority of MotorTrend’s print titles.

MotorTrend launched new shows such as “Super Turbo Story Time,” which featured comedian and producer Rob Corddry, “Shorty’s Dream Shop,” which featured a predominantly Latino cast, and “Super Street Garage,” which celebrated Japanese domestic cars and their young, diverse fans.

Mike Suggett, MotorTrend’s head of Studio, had been with the company since 2006 and was confident in the company’s content’s ability to adapt to new audiences and formats.

“Automotive content translates on all of these platforms,” said Suggett. “A ’64 Mustang is always going to be cool.”

Suggett is eager to produce more content for the Spanish-speaking audience. He also considers the wider WBD portfolio and imagines how MotorTrend might fit into the scripted realm.

“We salivate at the idea of the Batmobile and what we could do to contextualize that,” he said.

MotorTrend is seeking to offset content costs with coproductions

MotorTrend is not immune to the entertainment industry’s headwinds, which include the decline of linear TV and shrinking content budgets.

According to Wellen, the company has been able to offset its declining linear revenue by creating evergreen content that can be monetized multiple times over by releasing it on multiple platforms for set periods of time. The content on MotorTrend is also unscripted, making it immune to the double Hollywood strike of actors and writers.

MotorTrend plans to launch nine new shows this year, an increase of 80% from 2022, and is looking for coproduction partners for those with the broadest appeal, similar to the Kevin Hart show.

“The environment has changed, and we must change along with it,” Wellen explained. “If a certain series will appeal to, say, a broad Roku audience, then it’s in everyone’s interest — consumers, partners, and us — to mitigate risk, collaborate on the creative product, split production costs, and share revenue globally.”

Even the most established players, however, cannot guarantee success in the face of a plethora of production companies producing car and car-themed shows aimed at everyone from the auto enthusiast to the car-curious, not to mention an explosion of FAST content in general. The launch of MotorTrend’s FAST channel on Samsung TVs last fall coincided with the launch of Samsung’s own automotive channel, Ride or Drive, for example.

“It’s a battle for attention,” Suggett explained. “You look behind you and see incredible stories being told on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram.” That’s where our heritage comes in — our ability to harness that trust and turn it into shows — that’s where we stand a chance.”

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